Ashley Giles is confident Test cricket will take place this summer as a pool of 30 England players prepare to resume training in conditions he believes pose less of a risk to health than popping down to the supermarket.
The England director of cricket was speaking after unveiling phase one of the team’s return to the nets from next Wednesday – a period of one-on-one coaching sessions where individuals will turn up at county grounds already in kit and undergo temperature checks before working on cricket skills under the supervision of a physio.
Giles described this undertaking, one in which England will call on a number of county coaches and potentially cover their wages if currently furloughed, as the first tentative steps towards a possible run of six biosecure Tests in eight weeks against West Indies and Pakistan from 8 July.
“Right now I am confident,” Giles said when asked if he believes international cricket will be staged in the UK this season. “Who knows what the UK – or the world – will look like in two months or three months’ time?
“We hope we don’t take another dip, which would put all of us back. [But] If we continue on this trajectory hopefully we will have the right conditions to play some Test cricket.”
As reported by the Guardian last week, England’s Test players face the prospect of up to nine weeks away from their families once they convene in the last week of June at Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl – the first of two grounds likely to be used this summer along with Old Trafford because of their on-site hotels.
But Giles confirmed that with the wife of the Test captain, Joe Root, expecting baby No 2 in July, and mental welfare another consideration, the medical team are looking into ways for players to leave and re-enter the so-called bubble safely.
There are myriad hurdles to overcome but in the short term, following government approval, England’s players will start sharpening up their skills in anticipation of playing after eight weeks of lockdown.
Under the protocols drawn up, the fast bowlers will get under way first before the batsmen have their first hit two weeks later. These individual outdoor sessions will be staggered and include physical distancing – the attending physio will wear PPE should an injury need treating – such that Giles fancies the risk can be reduced to an acceptable level.
“We should be able to get control of the environment so it’s safer to go back to practice than it is to go to the supermarket. I’m not making light of this but there are risks every time you go outside the house. We need to mitigate as many of the risks as we possibly can.
“At one venue guys may train individually but with the same coach – a single coach for four or five bowlers [for example]. But with social distancing they shouldn’t be close enough to pass anything on. It’s essential we stick to these guidelines.”
Giles was keen to stress the 30 players – chosen in conjunction with the head coach, Chris Silverwood, and the national selector, Ed Smith – do not represent a squad per se. But it is clear at least 25 will make up the final group in order to facilitate net sessions and practice matches once working in groups is permitted.
Giles is yet to learn of any players reluctant to return to action – he confirmed they can opt out without prejudice – but declined to go into the availability of Jack Leach, whose management of Crohn’s disease with immunosuppressant medication potentially places him in a high-risk category.
Giles accepted West Indies and Pakistan players may be nervous about travelling to the UK – “it can be quite scary but we are doing everything we possibly can to answer all of their questions”.
The issue of saliva on the ball is one for the International Cricket Council to rule on, Giles said, and breaking habits will be tough. But with players due to be tested regularly for Covid-19 when in camp they could lead a “pretty normal existence”.
Such scenarios will come under phases two and three of this restart plan, which are yet to be drawn up, while an update on the return to training for the 18 first-class counties is expected before the end of the month.
England’s centrally contracted women are also due to begin practising from late June, even though their proposed summer series against India and South Africa remain in doubt given the high costs of creating biosecure grounds.